Offense against the person is typically defined as a crime that is committed towards another person through the use of physical force, often causing harm. Unlike crimes against property, crimes against person are levied against fellow beings, with the potential for injury and death, in many cases. There are fatal and non-fatal offenses against the person, as well as sexual and non-sexual. These can be categorized as assaults and injuries, and all of them depend on the degree of harm that is levied against the victim (DPS, 2011).
There are many different crimes against persons, and they are almost always high profile in nature. There is homicide, in which someone’s death is directly caused by the intervention or actions of another. These are divided into murder (deliberate) and manslaughter (accidental). There is also assault and battery; assault is when someone attempts to commit physical harm against a person, and battery is when it is accomplished. Harassment and stalking involve the alarming or annoyance of another person to the point of emotional distress. Kidnapping requires the forceful taking of a person and holding them against their will. Crimes against children include child abuse, both sexual and nonsexual. Child abuse can occur at all stages of youth, from fetus to young adulthood. Sexual offenses include rape, criminal sexual conduct, indecent exposure, and all manner of methods to either physically or emotionally cause harm or distress in a sexual manner. Even consensual sexual contact with a minor counts as a crime against persons (DPS, 2011).
In my mind, it is perfectly valid to create a crime or enhance the penalty based upon the victim. Hate crimes do indeed exist, and it is possible for someone to be assaulted who wouldn’t be assaulted otherwise because of their race or gender or sexual orientation. While this may create a strange double-standard, and it may be difficult to determine what the motivations truly are, it should not be out of the realm of possibility to enhance a penalty given unhealthy and poisonous attitudes toward other groups of people.
There are many reasons why people could get attacked; their attacker could hate them because of who they are. They may hate women, they may hate gays or blacks; whatever the reason, that was the motivator behind their assault and battery. If it can be incontrovertibly proven that the primary reason the victim was attacked was because of social or gender factors, there should be added penalty to that. This type of move would serve to create an institutional means of weeding out racial or gender aggression, as it will create a culture of zero-tolerance for these types of activities (ADL, 2001).
The inclusion of hate crimes as a special type of crime allows prosecutors to accurately identify motive regarding the crime, in order to determine what social and personal factors need to be overcome in order to prevent assaults like that from happening again. It would also protect uniquely targeted groups from receiving a disproportionately high level of abuse and assault.
That being said, there are a number of reasons why laws should refrain from adding extra punishments due to the unique nature of the motive. By creating additional penalties based on a certain type of motive, it implies that other motives for the same action are not as ‘bad,’ and can set a strange double standard for criminals to follow. It can also unduly punish those whose motives were not necessarily racial or gender-based, but could apply due to the gender or race of the victim. If a white man were to beat up a black man, but it was not because he was black, he could still be punished as if that were the case. It is difficult to secure these types of motives, as it can be hard to determine exactly what was going through the attacker’s head at the time.
What’s more, penalty enhancement can infringe on the defendant’s First Amendment rights – it effectively punishes them for having offensive thoughts. While there are people who are, indeed, bigots, that is not illegal – merely ethically gray and perhaps morally repugnant. However, that does not preclude added jail time because of an opinion. People should be punished for their actions, not the type of thought that led to the action. The overall point of penalty enhancement is to target “the harm caused when a person expresses a hurtful or hateful opinion” (Hudson & Marzilli, p. 31). However, that should not be the responsibility of the Supreme Court to police thoughts and opinions.
Hate crimes typically happen when a minority is unduly hurt by the member of the majority (for example, white on black violence). However, there have been unique cases in which hate crimes have been levied against black men who attacked white men because of their race. One infamous hate crime is Wisconsin v. Mitchell, a 1993 case in which a white teenager was beaten up by a group of African-American adults. Mitchell ended up convicted of aggravated battery; instead of the normal sentence for this charge, his jail time increased to seven years, due to the nature of the victim (white). Evidence had shown that Mitchell’s assault on the white man was racially motivated; he beat up Gregory Reddick because he was white, and for no other reason. With that in mind, the selection of the target based on race led to the enhanced sentencing.
The most important precedent set with Wisconsin v. Mitchell was the Supreme Court determination that hate crimes did not infringe on First Amendment rights, as it does not denounce freedom of expression (FindLaw, 1993). Rather, it merely alerts the investigators to a possible motive for their crimes. In the end, the Court sentenced Mitchell to four years, merely adding the seven as a maximum. However, their overall aim is to criminalize bigoted thought, which can lead to more institutionalized, widespread crimes if not overly punished when the situation calls for it. Protected classes, including minorities, must be given all the help they can get to combat institutionalized prejudice and racism, which is what leads to the added level of punishment, including extra jail time for Mitchell.
DPS. (2009). Criminal Law: Crimes Against Persons. DPS - Law Enforcement Academy. Retrieved September 25, 2011, from www.dps.nm.org/training/legal/documents/Crimes_Against_Persons.pdf
Hudson, D. L., & Marzilli, A. (2009). Hate crimes. New York: Chelsea House.
Penalty Enhancement and the Inclusion of Gender. (2001). ADL. Retrieved September 25, 2011, from http://www.adl.org/99hatecrime/penalty.asp
Wisconsin v. Mitchell. (1993). FindLaw. Retrieved September 25, 2011, from http://caselaw.lp.findlaw.com/scripts/getcase.pl?court=US&vol=508&invol=476